Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Wedding Banquet

The Wedding Banquet, directed by Ang Lee, is a great story about a gay Taiwanese-American man in his mid-twenties named Wei-Tung Gao (Winston Chao) who has been in a happy relationship with his white physical therapist boyfriend Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein). However, Wei-Tung's traditional Taiwanese parents know nothing about their son's sexuality, and are constantly nagging him about getting married and having a son soon. His mother, Mrs. Gao (Ya-lei Kuei) sends Wei-Tung a form that will be sent to a matchmaking firm and will find him a nice wife. Simon an Wei-Tung have a good time filling out the paperwork with outrageous demands (must speak five languages, have two Ph.Ds, be an opera singer) but the matchmaking firm ends up finding a girl who matches... exactly. On their first and very awkward date, the other girl finds out that Wei-Tung is gay and that the girl is actually already dating a white guy - they both agreed to the matchmaking forms/firm/thing to appease their parents. So Wei-Tung's off the hook... for a little bit. However, his parents are not at all pleased. That's when Simon has the brilliant idea of getting Wei-Tung's immigrant mainland-Chinese artist tenant, Wei-Wei (May Chin), to marry Wei-Tung so Wei-Tung's parents leave him alone and so she can get a green card. All three of the twentysomethings agree to the plan, and Wei-Tung tells his parents. Of course, they are overjoyed at the news and announce that they will come to the US for the wedding. Wei-Tung's father (Sihung Lung) also just had a stroke, but that does not deter him from wanting to come and have a big wedding for his son and daughter-in-law-to-be. Wei-Tung's parents arrive at the apartment that Simon and Wei-Tung share - all five people will be sharing the house for two weeks. However, both Wei-Tung and Wei-Wei want to get the marriage of convenience out of the way as quickly as possible, so they plan on having only a courthouse wedding. This doesn't really line up with Wei-Tung's parents' idea of a wedding, and Mrs. Gao breaks down crying because it isn't a Chinese ceremony and there isn't a banquet. The only way to make up for this tragic mistake? Accident? is to hold a huge banquet for everyone to attend. The banquet is large and shiny and Simon looks hurt and left out. After the banquet, Wei-Wei seduces Wei-Tung and he gets her pregnant. Whoops. This makes Simon really angry, and their previously stable and happy relationship starts to crumble. Wei-Tung's father (Mr. Gao?) has another stroke, and in a fit of anger and desperation, Wei-Tung comes out to his mother in the hospital hallway. She is immediately shocked and takes it personally and Wei-Tung begs her not to tell his father. Later, Simon is taking Mr. Gao for a walk and he discovers that Mr. Gao already guessed that Wei-Tung and Simon were in a relationship. Mr. Gao then accepts Simon as his son and gives him a hongbao filled with money but asks that he not tell Wei-Tung that he knows. Wei-Wei decides to keep her baby and asks Simon to be the other father of her child. Then it's time for Mr. and Mrs. Gao to go back to Taiwan, and they do, leaving the unconventional family behind. 

First thing first - some of the acting performances are really contrived and quite cheesy. But don't let that get you down! Watch it with subtitles and turn the sound waaaay down. 
However, the entire purpose/story of this film is quite groundbreaking - it's TWO minorities represented in ONE film. And that representation is a positive one! Nowhere in the film do you see a negative or stereotypical portrayal of a gay person or an Asian person. All of the characters are written as believable, down-to-earth and normal people. Nothing is overblown or contrived (except the performances...). And on top of that, the film got nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award! It doesn't get much better than that, folks.

However, this film is not at all about the Asian-American experience - while the story takes place in the early 90's in Manhattan, most of the dialogue happens in Mandarin, and the Asian characters are all "transplants" (if you will) from Asia in America. There's not really any culture clash or assimilation issues perse in this film, mostly because the entire movie takes place in the context of recent immigrants from China and Taiwan. In that sense, this film doesn't tackle the issue of being Asian in America - it's more about being gay and being Chinese at the same time. Granted, that's an important subject, but there isn't really much here for me to analyze that pertains to my original questions and ideas. 

Okay, fine, there's some culture clash. Like this above scene. But is this really culture clash? I feel like this is language clash, which could be something entirely different... or not. 
This film is like Chan is Missing in the sense that the characters and their relationships are all extremely relatable. However, they are different because while Chan is Missing has a great universal story that doesn't rely completely on "the Chinese-ness," The Wedding Banquet does rely on that to help move the story along. Regardless, both are great representations of Asians and Asian-Americans - and that's quite a cause for celebration. 

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